The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they have reassigned Alexander Volkov to the Syracuse Crunch. Volkov was a second-round pick by the Lightning in this year’s entry draft. Shortly after being drafted, he was signed to an entry-level contract with an expectation that he would start the season with the Crunch.
When drafted, Volkov was not on the radar of many prospect watchers. So it was certainly a surprise, and seen as a reach, that the Lightning took him in the second round. He was also already 19 and just turned 20, making him an overage pick. Volkov was playing for SKA St. Petersburg, but was unable to crack SKA’s line-up in the KHL. He split last season between the junior league MHL and the minor league VHL in Russia.
Volkov made his Lightning debut in the first game of the preseason against the Carolina Hurricanes at home. He started off on a line with Cory Conacher and Vladislav Namestnikov. However, that line didn’t get much going and he switched places with Taylor Raddysh midway through the second period. That put him with fellow Russians Alexey Lipanov and Boris Katchouk. The line really clicked and controlled possession. Volkov “scored” two goals but had both waved off for goalie interference. That performance got a lot of Lightning fans really excited for Volkov.
In his second game with the Lightning, Volkov picked up two goals in the game, this time not being the victim of goaltender interference. For this game, he was lined up with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli. Despite the two goals, his line’s possession numbers were sub-par and he was on ice for two goals against, including an empty-netter at the end of the game.
With two fairly solid games, Jon Cooper gave him an opportunity to play with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat in a third preseason game. This would be an opportunity for him to show that he could keep up with NHL players against other legitimate NHLers. There were fewer juniors and minor league level players, and this would be a true test of his readiness.
And he was not. The line was horrible. They were constantly giving up shots in their own zone and rarely generating anything at the other end. Volkov was not ready, and now he is being sent down to the Syracuse Crunch for seasoning.
It was easy to look at how well Volkov played in that first game with Lipanov and the two goals he scored in the second game and buy into the hype. He plays with a lot of hustle and energy and he seems to work very hard. The reality is that his skills are not ready for the big show. He needs to work on his game in both the offensive and defensive zones. He’ll need to perform in the AHL, just like most of the rest of the Lightning lineup has, to earn a spot in the NHL.
We got a brief look at what Volkov might become, but that was it, just a glimmer. We’ll see where he is towards the end of this year and if he’s improved enough to get some call up time as an injury replacement. It shouldn’t be a surprise if it takes a couple years before he’s knocking down the door of the NHL.